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Welcome to Assam Forum GB

A society of voluntary individuals interested in the socio-economic issues of Assam

The 5th Assam Forum GB Conference will be held at Kaziranga University, Assam on 10-11 December 2016. It will be a 2-day conference and will cover three important areas:

(a) Rural poverty in Assam (agricultural productivity, connectivity & power supply, health care, and unemployment)
(b) Solutions to flood & erosion problems, dams (benefits and safety), and water resources management in Assam; and
(c) Ethnic disharmony, Tribal autonomous Councils, and Assamese sub-nationalism.

Further details will be announced at a later date.

In February 2015, as AFGB Chairman, I went to New Delhi, and accompanied by AFGB member Mr. Chiranjit Sonowal, met Mr. Ajit Kumar Doval, 5th National Security Adviser to the Government of India, Ms. Uma Bharti, Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Dr. Jitendra Singh, Minister of State for Development of North East Region (Independent Charge), Minister of State for Prime Minister’s Office, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Development of Atomic Energy, and Department of Space, Government of India, and Mr. Sarbananda Sonowal, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Youth Affairs & Sports.

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The 3rd Annual Conference organized by Assam Forum of Great Britain took place on 13th September 2014 at the London School of Economics. The conference opened with a brief address by the AFGB Chairman. Two topics were discussed at this conference, namely, The perennial problem of flood and erosion in Assam and Primary Healthcare problems in Assam.

Download the summary in PDF which contains links to the full text of all the papers presented in the conference including the chairman's speech.

London, 1 June (By Nina Goswami): A former British Foreign Office Minister has called on the Assamese community in the United Kingdom (UK) to help the government in Assam tackle problems faced by the country.

While addressing the second annual conference of the Assam Forum of Great Britain (AFGB) at the London School of Economics last weekend (Saturday 1 June), Bill Rammell urged delegates to consider the experiences of other countries when formulating their advice for the administration in Dispur.

Mr Rammell, who served under former British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said: “I want to stress to you that issues such as poverty and terrorism have common histories, common threads, and I hope that in your discussions and debates, you look to initiatives and examples – at home and abroad – as you seek to offer solutions to the Government and others back in Assam.”

The former UK minister, who was introduced to the delegation by the Forum’s Vice Chairman Dr Jayanta Sarma, blamed the present British government for a 30 per cent drop in first-year undergraduates coming to the UK from India and warned this could disadvantage both countries.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing a (British) Government that is confused – and confusing – on the issue of immigration, and in particular overseas students,” said Mr Rammell, who is Vice Chancellor at the University of Bedfordshire. “In my opinion that’s not just a shame and a missed opportunity for those prospective students, but bad for high education in the UK, bad for the UK economy, and bad for that evolving UK-India relationship.”

Immigrations – specifically, illegal migration from Bangladesh – was a key theme of the conference. Dr. Jitendralal Borkakoti, who is Assam Forum's Chairman and Chief Convenor, argued that Assam Accord had been a “complete failure”, while deliberating on the issue in his presentation on Demographic Invasion and the Assam Accord.

“The Accord did not spell out a robust institutional structure with adequate resources to implement the Agreement’s detect-delete-deport policy and the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, legitimised in the Accord, became a hindrance” said Dr Borkakoti.

“The Asom Gana Parishad Government did not make sure that the issue should be raised with the Bangladesh and in 1985 did not strike when the iron was hot,” he continued. “It is now too late because of the Human Rights Bill, thousands of illegal migrants who have lived for more than 25 years will be difficult to be got rid of.”

Dr Borkakoti suggested that a policy of prevention and assimilation should now be adopted and the Government of India must raise the issue with Bangladesh, something that should have been done 28 years back.

Smitana Saikia, who is currently writing a doctorate around the Ethnic mobilization and conflict in Assam, argued that a historic lack of an official definition of “Assamese” people is intrinsically linked to concerns over immigration, with many tribal groups feeling their distinct identities are being threatened.

She argued that the lack of provision for “legislative and administrative safeguards to protect the cultural, social, and linguistic identity and heritage” as outlined in the Assam Accord deal of 1985 had led to this identity crisis – a factor during last year’s Bodo-Muslim violence.

Calling for a return to a multi-ethnic society, Ms Saikia said: “Part of this is to have an all-inclusive definition of Assamese – something the Government of Assam still has not done after embarking on this in 2007.”

The meeting, which was overseen by AFGB’s chairman Dr Bhupen Dev Sarmah, also discussed the problems of Assam’s devastating floods.

Dr Rituparna Bhattacharya called for a renewed effort to add Majuli, the world’s largest river island, to the UNESCO World Heritage list. She bemoaned in her paper entitled Natural hazards reshape the map of Majuli the failure of previous efforts and claimed that one bid had collapsed due to mistakes regarding the paperwork.

Dr Tarun Chowdhury said both the Assam and Indian governments needed to improve flood relief provision and, if necessary, be prepared to ask the outside world for help.

Citing the aftermath of last year’s flood crisis when an estimated 500,000 displaced people were left living in poor conditions, he said: “They [the Assam government] should also put their pride to one side and ask for foreign help as it will save lives.”

Dated, London, the 28th June 2013

Mr. Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister of Assam

Honourable Chief Minister,

We agree with the President of India that the Assam Accord should be revisited. The Assam Accord is now outdated as events have overtaken it. We all feel betrayed as the required actions were not taken on time by the newly formed AGP Government in 1985. We consider the Assam Accord a failure. The seeds of its failure were already in the document, namely, (a) that the IMDT Act (which was struck down by the Supreme Court as illegal) was internalised, (b) that no consideration was given to the resources required for a robust administrative machinery to detect and deport, (c) that there was no treaty or agreement with the Government of Bangladesh. The High Commissioner of Bangladesh, whom we have met personally, has confirmed that no such agreements exist between India and Bangladesh.

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Executive Summary

On 19th February 2012, the United Assam Association of the United Kingdom (UAAUK) organised Assam Forum at the Mahatma Gandhi Hall, London, for the Assamese Diaspora to discuss selected economic problems of Assam. There was a congregation of more than sixty Assamese people from all over the UK. The meeting started with the Inaugural speech by Mr. Jitendra Kumar, First Secretary at the High Commission of India, London.

Five topics, namely, poverty reduction, tea industry, healthcare, capacity building and infrastructure of Guwahati were discussed, and these were led by the following five presentations: (a) “Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction in Assam” by Dr. Jitendralal Borkakoti, President UAAUK, (b) “Tea Industry & Assam” by Mr. Cren Sandys-Lumsdaine, General manager, McLeod Russel India Ltd, (c) “Factors Influencing Healthcare Development in Assam” by Dr. Mitam Barooah, Consultant at the Heart of England NHS Trust, (d) “Placement Linked Skills Development: Reflections and Experience from Work-Skill-India Centre, Mirza, Kamrup” jointly by Dr. Jayanata Biswa Sarma, Consultatnt at the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust, and Dr. Rituparna Bhattacharyya, a freelance researcher, (e) “Problems of Guwahati as a City” by Dr. Tarun Chowdhury, General Practitioner from Leicester. The following is a brief summary of the conclusions and policy suggestions that emerged from three-hour discussions.

Poverty Reduction

Poverty in Assam stands out both in terms of real per capita income (PCI) relative to that of India and HDI relative to that of the rest of India. Assam’s PCI is only 55% of India’s PCI while the same figure for Arunachal, Meghalaya, and Mizoram are respectively 94%, 88% and 84% in 2010-11. The annual average rate of growth of real GDP in Assam during 2004-05 and 2010-11 is 5.8%. Growth is generated by the service sector rather than by industry or agriculture. A vibrant agricultural sector is a necessary condition for rural poverty reduction.

Unemployment is a vital cause of poverty; and the policy suggestion is that small-scale industries with backward and forward linkages to raw materials relatively abundant in Assam are likely to create employment, and hence reduce poverty. This could be achieved by encouraging SHGs that should have adequate access to microfinance.

There is an urgent need for improvement in rural connectivity and power supply to the rural areas. This will boost the growth of small-scale or cottage industries.

Poverty reduction requires a poverty line defined in more realistic terms. We must not use poverty lines that are often referred to as the starvation lines. Participants have noted that the query from the Supreme Court of India in response to a petition has led the Planning Commission to declare the following Poverty Lines in 2011: Rs.965 (Urban) and Rs.781 (Rural). People living under PL in India have gone up from 27.5% to 37.2%. Clearly, with the newly defined poverty lines, the number of BPL people must go up in Assam too. The new figure for BPL people in Assam should be estimated.

The poverty reduction programmes of the Central Government, namely, PMGSY, SGRY and IAY should be more efficiently implemented. Leakage from PDS has been condemned; and good governance with transparency and accountability has been strongly recommended for successful completion of poverty reduction projects.

Tea Industry

The orthodox Assam tea has a unique taste and aroma. It is of vital importance for the tea industry of Assam to obtain the international GI for the unique Assam tea.

It is appreciated that the increasing number of small tea growers has contributed to the growth in production of green leaf. It has generated income and employment. But, it has been suggested that a system should be in place to supervise quality of green leaf produced by small tea growers so that the quality of Assam tea is maintained.

Infrastructure problems in the interior areas should be addressed, as it inhibits smooth operation of business. This relates both to supply of power and road connectivity, especially in the rainy season.

Healthcare

The geography and civil infrastructure of the state pose challenges to healthcare delivery in Assam. The background to State and National health indicators including millennium development goals were discussed. The need for healthcare outcome objectives was emphasized.

There is a shortage of skilled manpower including doctors, nurses, paramedics and technicians. More resources should be given to medical education to train as well as to maintain current good practice. Standardisation of care across both government and private healthcare should be addressed. Data collection of patients and treatment outcomes should be made mandatory to enable benchmarking of patient healthcare outcomes against national and international indicators.

Primary Health Centres in the rural areas need serious attention in terms of manpower, equipment and building infrastructure, some of which are in very poor condition.

Health initiatives by the government like the Mritunjoy ambulance service, Smile train project and other projects were discussed and commended. Guwahati and

Dibrugarh have become two centres of excellent healthcare; logistically it becomes difficult to transport serious ill people to these centres because of poor infrastructure. More centres of excellence should be thus developed.

Capacity Building

Participants have emphasized the importance of skill development and capacity building for the youth of Assam through training; and the presenters have discussed their practical experiences in running the Work-Skill-India Centre at Mirza.

Funds should be made available for such training so that youth employability is enhanced.

There are some cultural issues as the young people are some times reluctant to get trained in professions that have to do with physical labour.

Infrastructure of Guwahati

The participants regret the negligent attitude of the government towards the woes of Guwahati ranging from flash floods and to traffic congestion and poor water supply. These problems have gone on for too long without any serious attempts to address them.

Help should be sought from the World Bank to have a thorough survey for action; and the government should take financial help from the Centre under the various urban development programmes so that Guwahti has a modern sewerage system which could cope with flash floods as well, and a good water supply system, as the water bed is being fast depleted.

Monorail system should be considered in order to ameliorate the congestion problem.

It is also suggested that a satellite town should be developed. This will also help to reduce congestion in Guwahati.

Currently the river Bharalu is a source of pollution. This river should be dug out to make a canal which can be used as river transport and which also will be a tourist attraction. The marshy land near the airport also should be dug out to create a water harvest tank which can be used for water supply, fishery and boating.

Prepared by: Dr. Jitendralal Borkakoti, Chief Convenor, Assam Forum, in conjunction with the speakers.

Mission

We discuss the economic, social, political and cultural issues of Assam and submit suggested solutions and raise awareness among the Assamese community and the wider population of the UK of the ongoing concerns in Assam. We hold an annual conference on the burning issues of Assam, and also to organise seminars on urgent issues. We invite expert opinions on specific topics of Assam and facilitate the global Assamese diaspora to have a united voice on specific issues.